Wind Rivers Traverse


Jan 6, 2013
I got an idea to hike the Highline trail in Wind Rivers after last year's Gannett Peak hike via Tourist Creek. When it finally came to choosing a route, I ended up planning a bit more strenuous and off trail hike mapped here:

(except I wanted to go south to north)

I quickly realized that my idea of an easy 4-day trip probably would not work here and I would have to go faster and longer than most people would want. So, it shaped to be a solo hike. The most I was willing take off work was 3 days, which gave me 6 days total, including the Labor Day.

On Friday 30th I drove to north of Pinedale and camped on public land. Next morning I returned to Pinedale and talked to folks at Great Outdoors Shop about a car shuttle. Then I headed to Big Sandy. There was probably the largest number of cars I have ever seen at a trailhead, anywhere. I hit the trail around noon (what are the chances: Dan R. parked right next to me and we chatted some before taking off).

Day 1.

I hiked to Big Sandy Lake and over Jackass Pass into the The Cirque of the Towers under clear skies and in very warm temps. I wish I took the lower route into Cirque to the left of the main trail, so I could visit climbers camps and say hi to friends camped there. As it were, I headed directly over the Texas Pass. Water management issues and altitude gain made the hike somewhat difficult. I reached Shadow Lake in the next drainage around 6pm and camped. There was a beautiful sunset and alpenglow on the peaks of the back side of the Cirque. A group of backpackers camped nearby. I scored a great campsite that night: high on a bluff, in the trees, nice flat ground and next to water. Good nights sleep.

Day 2.

I thought this would be the crux day of the hike: I planned to hop over 2 passes and 3 different drainages and reach the Fremont trail. Things would be easy after that. The main factor would be if the weather would hold. I started hiking and reached Pyramid Lake sometime in late morning. From there I hopped into East Fork valley over some off trail no mans land. Hiking up the East Fork was easy. I could hear people's voices near the upper lake, but could never see people themselves. From Raid-Bonneville pass I had two options: head lower into Bonneville Lakes valley like Joe Kelsey suggests, or hop over a shoulder directly to the upper lake. I tried the former and succeeded. There was one spot where I had to get on my butt and use hand to lower myself, but otherwise it was not too bad. Again, I found a tent and people at the lake shore. From there I contoured lake on the left and headed for the lower of the two passes between Bonneville Basin and Middle Fork Basin. The pass actually requires some route finding on grassy ledges, so I was very surprised to see a coyote way above looking down at me. It was so warm that even going downhill on the other side I was still overheating, so I took a swim in Lee (I think) Lake and soon reached the Middle Fork lake. The hike on trail to reach the junction with Fremont was a long one. I finally camped beautifully at the Sandpoint Lake near the main trail.

Day 3.

It rained lightly overnight and the morning woke me up with a thunderstorm. I packed as quick as I could to escape lightning all around and hit the trail (not very logical I am sure). This was supposed to be an easy hiking day with no navigational issues and easy terrain. Big mistake: it was easy up to the Mount Baldy area and then the trail hit two passes at 10.8K with about 1K gain on each. When I was in sight of Cook Lakes around 4pm the skies opened with a strong downpour. The trail turned into a small creek, it was pretty much a flash flood. I camped at the Pole Creek near the lakes and thought about options. The difficult terrain of that day (~19 miles I would guess) left me with a seriously painful left knee. With my running every day I don't get tired too much, but joints sometimes give me trouble. I think the problem was worn down cartilage under the knee cap. I spent a few hours looking at maps and reading Joe Kelsey's pages I had copies of. Counted elevation lines and measured distances. Finally I concluded that if my knee works in the morning, it would be easier and quicker to stick with the original route and hike on trail past Cook Lakes, off trail past Wall Lake, over a pass and directly down to Island Lake. I was very worried I'd get stuck or run out consumables if my knee did not cooperate, so the sleep was not so good, although the campsite was very nice. The rain stopped before dark and the night was clear, even if the air was very moist.

Day 4.

Some IB overnight and in the morning and I hit the trail. The weather was nice, the skies clear. The knee was only slightly painful and I was moving well. I was relieved. Near Cook Lakes I saw a large group that came over the pass I was headed for and chatted with a solo hiker headed to Indian Basin. I would say that Cook Lakes drainage and Wall Lake are some of the most beautiful landscapes I saw on that trip. I went around Wall lake on faint trail and at one point actually had to wade in the lake under a cliff wall, I wonder if it gave the lake it's name. Once I climbed into a little hanging basin above Wall lake I encountered some navigational issues, but quickly sorted them out with a GPS and USGS quad. I hit the trail at Island Lake around noon or so. As expected, there were people on trail returning from Titcomb Basin and I stopped to chat with each group. Surprisingly, there were none coming down from Gannett. The weather was still good and I reached the upper Titcomb Lake around 2pm. Arguably, this was too short a day, only 12 miles or so and I could continue. However, I was worried about crossing the Knapsack Col, and hiking to the next reasonable camping spot in the Peak Lake area. Being at 12K after noon is not a good thing in the Rockies, thunderstorms are a rule. Also, I was pretty sure that I was almost done with the route. So, I camped and tried to find something to do for half a day. I was very reluctant to camp above the treeline in the open, but closest trees were back at Island Lake and not much cover there either.

Counter to my expectations there was not a tent in sight anywhere in the Titcomb. There were two groups of folks hiking up and down the trail, just checking out glaciers and looking at peaks to chat and break the boredom. We found a common subject with a group from New Mexico talking about canyoneering, this sport is getting popular. The weather was still great and I practiced in taking pictures as much as I could.

I was in the tent sleeping when the clouds started moving in around 9pm. By 10pm there were flashes of lightning in all the surrounding valleys. The rain started coming down and around midnight a torrential downpour and wind struck. Here I have to mention, that I had neglected to seam seal my MLD Duomid tent. So, after a half an hour of torrent the drops of water on wind ward side started to seep through the seams. In addition to that I was seriously worried about the tent holding up (I have experience of losing a tent to wind at a high camp). There was a lesson here: if going solo, do have a backup in case a piece of gear fails. I should have brought an emergency bivvy, even if it's an extra 10oz in weight. Fortunately for me, the tent survived the wind gusts and the rain stopped by 2am. Not much sleep that night, especially since I was determined to get an alpine start to cross the Knapsack Col.

A first hand lesson in weather forecasting: after the rain stopped, the air was so incredibly dry, that tent and everything else dried out momentarily, no condensation whatsoever. I wonder, what that storm was about.

Day 5.

I started moving up as soon as there was enough light. Very tough going to get up the soaked moraine. In a couple of hours I was right below the final climb over the pass. There was no snow, the slope was all small rubble saturated with water. One step up, slide half a step down. I would much prefer a nice snow slope and some light crampons. By the time I reached upper Peak Lake drainage there was some clouds getting hung up on nearby peaks. The only word that came to my mind in Peak Lake valley is "grim". Perhaps it's due to the lack of sunshine in this steep drainage. The trail was where it was supposed to be and all was good.

I was hiking up the Cube Rock Pass when I met a large group accompanied by a small dog. Among other things, they mentioned the dog was a stray from another party and could I take it to Vista Pass, where the owner was. I am allergic to dogs and generally not a big fan (I get chased all the time during my runs), but I could not refuse. So, I got a canine companion, a young border collie called Daisy.

The three forks park was as I remembered it: beautiful, awesome. I was seriously tempted to just stop there and camp. The huge walls, wide meadows, clean blue water are just best ever. Being a border collie, Daisy quickly figured out the rules of the game: I don't pet you, you hike along and warn me of bears, I feed you when I eat myself and you eat what I eat. She was fine with couscous and granola bars. I think chocolate is not good for dogs, so we avoided that.

We ended a long day by camping above the upper Green River lake right across from Squaretop Mountain. A campsite with a million dollar view. We had some misunderstanding with Daisy as to who gets to sleep inside the tent at 3am, but she figured out things quick. I left the tent entrance open overnight, so she would see me sleeping and not think herself lost again. A good night's sleep, knowing that the dog would warn me if a bear stops by. I was getting quite attached to that dog, what a surprise.

Day 6.

I started moving around 6:30 and the 7 miles to the trailhead went quick. There was a sign where trail splits between lakes advising of a CDT detour on the west side of the lower lake. Why? Bears?

Right above the upper lake, in shallow water and meadows there were two moose eating vegetation from the bottom, pretty cool, I didn't know they were such aquatic animals.

We hit the trailhead at 9am and fortunately the car was there as planned (other than some dried ice cream on the seat, I guess the kids who drove the car had to cool off on a hot day :).

At this point I was seriously considering adopting Daisy, she was such a sweet dog. But I just couldn't even drive her to town with my allergies. So, I talked to campground hosts, left Daisy and asked to e-mail me what happens to her.

Finally, after 5 days (a little less), 80+ miles (half cross country) and 15K elevation gain I was headed home (or rather to Granite Hot Spings to soak and relax). This was one of the harder hikes I have done and it will sure be memorable. There has to be enough challenge and worry for a trip to be fondly remembered.

Again, I knew this already, but there's no better way to understand the land than to through hike it. Just looking at maps and reading guide books is one thing. Once you travel it on foot the level of understanding is entirely different. I learned this hiking from Moab to Hanksville and here too again.

P.S. I called Forest Service number in Pinedale the next day and the lady that answered the phone was already aware of the lost dog and said Daisy was reunited with the owner. Something about "grandpa losing the dog and my grand daughter picking it up".

Link to photos if slideshow doesn't work:


Featured image for home page:
Wow wow wow! Holy shit man! What a hike! And all in just six days?!!?! You're a machine! It took me 6 days to get from Green River Lakes to Elkhart. I'm not sure I'd ever want to move as fast as you do, but it's totally inspiring. Thanks for posting, I really enjoyed reading through it and your photos are great!
  • Like
Reactions: as
Great report as! And nice recounting. That IS some mileage per day. We know Bob can do it. It is nice to have another WIndies adventurer aboard.Welcome and thanks!
Great trip! Makes me think about getting a dog (btw, chocolate can be fatal to dogs so good for you for avoiding it!)
Thanks to everyone for encouragement! Hope to post some more reports for upcoming trips.
Man, you can really move!!! I don't think I could keep up with you even if I wasn't carrying anything!

Awesome TR and great photos! Love #23 (sunset)!!!!

Looks like your tent is just a tarp? No bug net? How do you deal with those damn mosquitoes?
Fantastic. The Winds are definitely one of my favs. Thanks so much for the report and the inspiration.

Similar threads
Thread starter Title Forum Replies Date
steve Wind Rivers Traverse - Backpacking 90 miles in the Wind Rivers Backpacking 102
Upgrayedd Union and Gunsight Passes - Wind Rivers Trip Planning 4
Bob Wind Rivers - Short Trip to Cook Lake Trip Reports 9
OldBill Roaming the Wind Rivers, September 2022 Backpacking 8
Mountain Wanderer First time in the Wind Rivers Backpacking 4
Bob Wind Rivers - Lee Lake Loop Backpacking 6
Bob Sand Creek Fire - Wind Rivers General Discussion 0
A Wind Rivers: Clear Lake, Faler Lake and Roaring Fork General Discussion 7
OldBill Short Bear Basin exploration, Wind Rivers Trip Planning 7
Bob Wind Rivers ..... for those getting the itch ........ Backpacking 2
S Backcountry camping tips for Wind Rivers - upper Green River valley via canoe Trip Planning 5
Kullaberg63 Wind Rivers, Circling Downs Mountain Backpacking 16
Burrito Wind Rivers - Titcomb to Knapsack Col to Peak Lake Trip Planning 3
Lincsco Wind Rivers - Texas Pass Trip Planning 5
OldBill Introducing the Wind Rivers to the next generation, Sept 2016 Backpacking 3
Nethos Eclipse in the Wind Rivers Trip Planning 52
danger02ward Wind Rivers - Titcomb and Indian Basins Part 4 Backpacking 1
danger02ward Wind Rivers - Titcomb and Indian Basins Part 3 Backpacking 12
Nick Highest elevation buffalo jump found in Wind Rivers General Discussion 7
danger02ward Wind Rivers - Titcomb and Indian Basins Part 2 Backpacking 3
danger02ward Wind Rivers - Titcomb and Indian Basins Part 1 Backpacking 1
J Avoiding Weekend Crowds - Tetons vs. Wind Rivers Trip Planning 11
Bob Slice of Heaven Part 2 ...... Wind Rivers NE corner Backpacking 4
Burrito Looking for moderate route in the wind rivers Trip Planning 8
Bob Wind Rivers NE Corner - 9 Days of Heaven ...... Backpacking 20
Blake Merrell Wind Rivers 2016: Green River to Elkhart Backpacking 8
Bob Shoshone lk - wind rivers fire Trip Planning 0
Bob Wind rivers and fire Trip Planning 7
OldBill Wind Rivers in Sept - how to hook the next generation? Trip Planning 9
Mountain of Youth Southern Wind Rivers in July - Suggestions Welcome Trip Planning 2
Dave Winters Wind Rivers 2015 Backpacking 5
trasmuson3 Wind Rivers - Shadow Lake Backpacking 4
Eugene Wind Rivers from Elkhart Park to Titcomb Basin Backpacking 12
Nico Windy Lake - Wind Rivers Backpacking 7
Artemus Sweetwater Gap Walkabout - Wind Rivers Backpacking 18
trasmuson3 Wind Rivers and dogs General Discussion 9
Kyle P Hike to Grave/Baptiste lakes in the Wind Rivers Hiking & Camping 14
Bob Wind Rivers - 2014 - Part 2 Backpacking 11
Bob Wind Rivers - 2014 - Part 1 Backpacking 3
Bob Wind Rivers Backpacking 16
MtnMatt Wind Rivers advice Trip Planning 14
outnabout Solo Wind Rivers - Need some advice Noobs: Introduce yourself! 3
Dave Wind Rivers, Sept. 2013 Backpacking 23
cobbiel Wind Rivers, WY & Bear Containers Trip Planning 11
HomerJ Wind Rivers - Big Sandy Backpacking 7
Nick Atlantic Canyon, Wind Rivers Backpacking 8
Mike K Indian Pass Question (Wind Rivers) Trip Planning 12
Kyle P Hiking and Fly Fishing the Wind Rivers Backpacking 6
Nick The Temple - Wind Rivers Backpacking 21
Nick Wind Rivers Trailhead Shuttles Trip Planning 3

Similar threads